Tagata Pasifika

The Pacific voice on
New Zealand television
since 1987

Tagata Pasifika

The Pacific voice on
New Zealand television
since 1987

It felt like coming home: A new press upgrades publishing for Moana stories

Public Interest Journalism funded through NZ On Air

Avatar photo
Simone Kaho | Reporter/Director

In recent years Moana (Māori and Pasifika) writers Tina Makareti and Lani Wendt Young have drawn attention to the under-representative number of books by Pacific and Māori writers published in New Zealand.

The outcome, they say, is that indigenous writers and readers are left on the margins, limited in our creativity, and unable to see our many different ways of being reflected in books.

Tatou publishing, a new press run by two Pasifika women, is setting out to change this. Its first book, ‘Vā: Stories by Women of the Moana’, proves there’s plenty of talent and demand for Moana stories. 

The founders of Tatou publishing are best-selling author Lani Wendt-Young and lawyer and writer, Sisilia Eteuati.

‘The publishing industry was never made for everybody,” says Sisilia. 

‘The way the industry is structured silences stories from Moana people and many other people besides.’

Lani experienced the industry’s limited view of Pasifika writing first-hand. 

“When I first finished my first novel and submitted it to places it was rejected. Many times,” she said in an interview with Radio 531 PI last year. 

“You really take a hit when these experts are telling you ‘actually we’re not interested. Your book is not good enough, and no one wants to read this or not enough people want to read this book.’”

Rather than accepting rejection, Lani self-published her book, and it became the first of her bestselling Telesā series. 

She is now the author of 10 books, has won multiple awards for her fiction and was the ACP (African Caribbean and Pacific group of nations) 2018 Pacific Laurate. 

“We are beautiful storytellers,” says Sisilia. 

“Oratory is in our blood. And people want our stories, not just Samoan people, not just Moana people. The wider world wants these stories.

“The problem is, I think, that publishers have yet to catch up with that.”

There is also, she points out, a lack of cultural competency in the publishing industry. 

“Because the publishing world is mostly white, it just means that it’s overwhelmingly the way that they approach people is in a very Western way. They don’t know how to work with Pacific people. They want a certain type of book from a Pacific author,”  says Sisilia.

“It means that we are supposed to be pigeonholed into what is known as ‘Pacific literature’. And that really holds back people’s creativity and holds back people’s writing and dampens their own genius.” 

Unsatisfied with these limitations, Lani and Sisilia founded Tatou Publishing in 2021, to deliver a better experience for Moana writers, and more stories for readers.

“We should be able to write both myths, but also tell about the modern Samoan woman who might be going on a Tinder date, but also write science fiction,” says Sisilia. 

“We should be able to write crime fiction. All of these things should be available to us and not having them for the reader is saying to the reader, you must only look one way. You must only be one way.”

As well as supporting many Moana voices and stories, Tatou Publishing prioritises relationships with writers, giving meaningful feedback, even if a story is declined, and sharing knowledge about the publishing process, and profits.

The goal, Sisilia says, is to re-center, and empower writers.

“It’s actually the stories, the writing that makes a book, any book. So it should never feel to the writers that somebody’s doing them a favour,” she says. 

“The power should lie with them and they should understand all of the processes around the book as well.”

Sisilia and Lani put out a call for stories through an online writing group with a timeframe of only two and a half weeks. The motivation, they say, was to create urgency that would cut through doubt. 

“In our experience, Pacific and Māori women are taught to doubt themselves and their own voice. But really, they shouldn’t.”

Just two months later, in December 2021, they launched their first book on Amazon, Vā: Stories by women of the Moana. It is a compilation of stories and poems by 38 Moana women, both new and noted writers. 

Lawyer and writer, Gina Cole, whose first book ‘Black Ice Matter’ won the Hubert Church Best First Book Award for Fiction in the 2017 Ockham New Zealand Book Awards, has four short stories published in Vā. 

“I’m just so proud of it. And I’m just so proud to be in the company of other Pasifika, indigenous women writers.”

The story Caroline Matamua submitted to Tatou, is the first she’s ever sent to a publisher. 

“To be honest, I was really shocked when I sent the draft and they said yeah we’ll publish it. It’s amazing. It’s surreal.”

Laura Toailoa, the former editor of Salient magazine, of the Victoria University of Wellington Students’ Association (VUWSA), has experience writing stories for media and personal essays. The short story she submitted to Vā was her first short fiction. 

“It’s like being home,” she says. 

“It’s that very relaxed unclench your jaw, relax your shoulders type feeling that I’ve really appreciated in this project.”

Essayist and art critic Tulia Thompson has two stories included in Vā. 

“The thing about this collection is that it’s felt like such a conversation, and a safe space to put stories out there and have the talanoa that goes with that,” Tulia says.

“As Moana writers, we don’t always feel that sense of entitlement to just put our work out there. Vā has been a great moment of us saying – let’s just do this.”

Vā went to number one in the Amazon new release World Literature Short Stories and Australia and Oceania Literature lists in its first week. The paperback book is now in New Zealand bookstores. 

“This book proves that there is a market for our stories and our people will buy our stories, and other people will buy our stories,” says Gina Cole.

As well as that, says Laura Toailoa, it has shown there’s another way to publish, in which Moana writers can feel safe.

‘It’s not until I feel like I have a soft place to land that I realise I was so tense or carrying so much. So it’s a bittersweet type of tears or sadness once you find a kind of home for a story that you, that I, didn’t realise was missing.’



Stay Connected

Subscribe to our mailing list to receive daily updates direct to your inbox!

*we hate spam as much as you do